- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

DEALE, Md. "I found a bunch of 'em yesterday, and not one would take the baits," charter boat captain John MacEwen said while his boat, the JanetM, slowly edged from its slip at Happy Harbor and headed for the Chesapeake Bay. "I have no idea if they'll bite today, but we'll give it a shot."
The "bunch" MacEwen was talking about were black drum huge, roly-poly, bottom-feeding fish with broad backs and bullish power. Drop a big chunk of soft or peeler crab on a 7/0 hook into a school of feeding drum and you'll have your hands full the moment one of them picks up the juicy bait and decides to hang on to it. It requires 30- to 50-pound test-line spooled onto strong reels, with a rod stiff enough to subdue a fish that might weigh as much as 70 or 80 pounds in rare cases more than 100 pounds.
Alas, after hours of slow, deliberate zigzag running, with the charter vessel scouring wide flats in 30 to 35 feet of water between the Sharps Island Light and the James Island area on the eastern side of the Bay's shipping channel, the screens of two depth locators never displayed the tell-tale markings of drum fish. If they had been under the electronic locator's transducer, they would have shown up on the bottom of the water column in barrel-like spots.
It soon became obvious it wasn't going to happen this day.
"PlanB is about to be put into effect," said MacEwen, an easygoing, quiet professional who wasn't going to allow the vagaries of black drum fishing put a crimp into his day. He needed to make sure the four men aboard his boat had something to talk about upon returning to their various suburban Washington homes.
MacEwen's son, Kenny, a licensed charter fishing captain in his own right he runs the 65-foot Tom Hooker headboat out of Chesapeake Beach's Rod'n'Reel dock soon unraveled a half dozen trolling rods bearing bucktails or spoons. On his day off, the younger MacEwen played mate for his father. It was obvious he enjoyed spending the day with the man who taught him the fishing business.
In nearly the same water the JanetM had hunted for drum, various wire or monofilament trolling lines soon trailed far behind the boat, slithering and moving. The baitfish-imitating lures rode just under the surface or at mid-depth.
The first strike came within a couple of minutes. It was a 20-inch rockfish, darkly striped and hopping mad when the younger McEwen slipped a net under it after Joe Dinoto pumped and reeled the fish back to the boat. Dinoto, who owns several Chick-fil-A restaurants in Columbia, Md., needed this day to recharge his batteries and enjoyed himself immensely. Then came Charlie Coates, editor/publisher of the regional Fishing Line newspaper, who manned a rod with a striper on the business end of the line. Chesapeake Bay native Bill Heflin and yours truly followed right behind, each of us reeling in keeper-size fish. Everybody was into striped bass as if the middle Chesapeake was chock full of them. It required little time for us to catch our two-rockfish limit, put them on ice and wonder what would transpire next.
The answer to that came quickly; we received strikes from several gray sea trout just a little southeast of the Choptank River mouth. The beautiful, iridescent-shimmering weakfish were a welcome sight for all hands aboard. Although the rockfish are nothing to sneer at when it comes to providing table fare, a fresh sea trout, bathed in an egg wash and rolled in seasoned flour, then fried in hot oil, is a taste treat of the first order.
So who would complain to captain MacEwen? Nobody. In fact, by the time the boat headed back to Happy Harbor hardly a soul aboard remembered what we actually came out into the Bay for.
To book an outing with John MacEwen, phone 410/867-3273. Kenny MacEwen's headboat, the Tom Hooker, currently leaves the dock at 6p.m. and returns at midnight. Each bottom-fishing angler pays $37, which includes your first batch of bait as you fish for croakers, rockfish and blues. The Rod'n'Reel tackle shop will answer headboat questions. Call 301/855-8450.
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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